A few miles west of downtown, past a terra-cotta-tiled gateway emblazoned with “Bienvenidos,” the smells and sights of Mexico spill onto 26th Street. The Mexican tricolor waves from brick storefronts. Vendors offer authentic churros, chorizo and tamales.
Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood is home to more than 500,000 residents of Mexican descent and is known for its Cinco de Mayo festival and bustling Mexican Independence Day parade. But federal authorities say that Little Village is also home to something else: an American branch of the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel.
Members of Mexico’s most powerful cartel are selling a record amount of heroin and methamphetamine from Little Village, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. From there, the drugs are moving onto the streets of south and west Chicago, where they are sold in assembly-line fashion in mostly African American neighborhoods.
“Chicago, with 100,000 gang members to put the dope on the street, is a logistical winner for the Sinaloa cartel,” Jack Riley, the DEA’s special agent in charge of the Chicago field division, said after a tour through Little Village. “We have to operate now as if we’re on the Mexican border.”